Four Ways Brands Make Money in the Instagram Monkey Sphere

instagram-nutellaAs Instagram quietly becomes the number two social media platform for publishers, money is being made with these specific strategies.

Is your brand on Instagram? More importantly, is your brand making money on Instagram?

“As a platform, Instagram might not be ideally suited to serve publishers’ digital needs. But they’ve still figured out how to make money on it,” insists Max Willens in Digiday.

“In the past year, as their audiences on the platform have increased, scores of them have turned to tactics including product placement, Instagram star partnerships and even tools that help them sell from their comments sections,” Willens continues.

If you’ve like me and a novice at Instagram, your eyes may have glazed over a little bit at this point in Willens’ article. Then I realized that there’s nothing terribly mysterious about Instagram; it’s simply one more channel available to publishers on which to engage with their readers. And it’s probably worth exploring in a little more depth, as long as you’ve clearly defined why you’re on that channel.

Willens does a nice job of breaking down the four big strategies to monetize Instagram:

  1. Product placement – “By far the most common strategy publishers use is good old-fashioned product placement, where an advertiser’s product will be photographed, and the brand will be tagged in a post published on the publisher’s feed. These kinds of posts are often part of larger digital buys, but the publishers’ conversations with brands often begin around Instagram,” he notes.
  2. Affiliate links – If you have a strong enough audience to sell product placements, you’ve got another stream potential built in. “…if a product is good enough to plug, why not profit when your readers purchase it?” Willens asks.
  3. Direct marketing – Many publishers, of course, are going direct. “Barstool Sports plugs its ‘Saturday is for the Boys’ shirts with posts on its feed on Saturday mornings, when most of its readers are still wrestling with hangovers and looking at photos of Friday revelry,” he notes. “Other publishers, including The New Yorker, New York magazine and Complex, have all used posts in their feed to drive sales of everything from books to branded events.”
  4. Influencer marketing – This is where Instagram has been a goldmine to the weird, wacky and wonderful people known as “influencers.” The practice has becoming so prevalent that the FTC is cracking down on celebrity endorsements, which might have a slightly dampening effect.

Before you dive in, it’s critical to remember that, for your brand, authenticity is more important than channel.

“No matter what the changes in technology, the brand must represent values that endure. The moment the financial guys and the marketing dancers get on to spoil a brand, you’re done,” said Cyril Pereira in an article from 2013. And it’s just as true today.

Instagram? Go have fun, go make some money, build your audience. Like any other channel, it’s one way for publishers engage with customers, as long as they can break inside the monkey sphere and make personal connections at a scale that works. Just don’t kill your golden egg-laying goose.